Guns & Butter: (Overrated) Beirut Travel Guide

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Beirut Travel Guide is part of the ANA, Take Me ‘Round the World Trip Report.


TPOL’s Guns & Butter Travel Guide is the best way to see as much as you can in as little time as possible. Here’s how it works – A trip is composed of two factors: Labor And Lazy. The opportunity cost (what is given up) for relaxing and being Lazy is gained by being adventurous in the form of Labor and vice versa. The guide includes inefficient activities i.e., tourist traps that should be avoided and aspirational activities that are worth doing but may be impossible to see given the constraints of time and resources.


Angry Overview

There are certain places in the world that everyone has on his or her bucket list. I should be wary of these places because anyone who uses the term bucket list is not my kind of traveler. These bucket listers romanticize everything about a destination and use terms like ‘amazing’ and ‘gorgeous’ to describe anything they encounter (see Are You a Naive Traveler?). They also think that taking a picture with a local makes their experience ‘authentic,’ a term that is overused. These are the same people who believe that getting ripped off for no other reason than being a tourist is acceptable. “They need it more than I do.” To which I always reply, “Here’s my bank account number. Feel free to send deposits.”

What they call bucket list, I call cynic’s list because what mesmerizes many, I find basic. I walk away wondering what I missed or, more appropriately, wondering why people are so easily impressed. Two great examples for the cynic’s list are Istanbul and Marrakech. Everyone loves Istanbul and I can’t figure out why. The food is not great, the beer is awful, and the sights can be seen in an afternoon.

What’s so great about Marrakech? I was there for a day and wanted to leave (see How I Almost Left Marrakech After One Night). In keeping with my travel rules of Sticking to the Plan, I stayed for four nights and wrote this real talk Marrakech Travel Guide.  Besides trying crazy food (see Medina, Marrakech: The Definitive Guide To Lamb Brain, Tongue, Eyeballs & More Food) and getting lost in the Medina (see Lost in the Labyrinth), I don’t see what’s so special about that place. Life doesn’t get any blander than couscous. In fairness, I did enjoy the banana stand (see The Detox Juice Bar).

And Now Beirut’s Turn

The third and most recent example of a bucket list destination that is overrated is Beirut, a place I wanted to visit since my grandma told me stories of its beauty. BB, which means grandma in Arabic, surely could not have been describing the city I visited. As a Michigan alum, we like to call ourselves the “Harvard of the West.” This is laughable because we are a far better university. Beirut likes to refer to itself as the “The Paris of the East.” Maybe it was, a long, long, long time ago. But now, it is not. Yes, the areas that have been restored following war after war look European but they are not Parisian beautiful. And these so-called Paris inspired buildings make up only a fraction of Beirut. Most of Beirut is the typical Arab skyline of run-down buildings with too many satellite dishes. If you told me I was in Amman, I wouldn’t know the difference. Downtown reminds me of the Scottsdale Quarter, a man-made shopping area, home to overpriced hummus (see Searching for the Best Shawarma Beirut) and brand name bullshit.

beirut travel guide
INSERT any Middle East city skyline
View from IC Phoenicia downtown

Taking a timeout from the Beirut Travel Guide, I will reference Michigan again by saying that I can empathize with Beirut. Detroit (pronounced De twah) was founded by the French and has been through its own struggles for decades. Lebanon has endured endless wars which is why the city my grandma described is not the city I saw in person. Much like I don’t appreciate when people attack the blight in my home state, I will direct further criticism of Beirut away from aesthetics.

Directly next to the beautiful IC Le Vendome

My issue with Beirut is much like my gripes with Athens. It’s a city stuck in the past, but nobody seems to realize it or cares to admit it. I was told that the breakfast at my sister’s hotel, the IC Phoenicia, was the best in the Middle East. I was told that the spa at the lC Phoenicia was also the best in the Middle East. I was told that the hummus in Beirut was…you guessed it, the best in the Middle East. I was told that famous line how Lebanese parties are the best in the Middle East because they party even when war is raging (I was also told this in Tel Aviv). And finally, I was told that the women in Lebanon are the best in the Middle East.

Breakfast 

As to breakfast, TPOL refuses to pay IHG $35 for what should be free (see TPOL Paid for Breakfast! And… ). The breakfast at the Hilton Habtoor which was free was really good so it may have been worth comparing for scientific purposes. Still, it will be hard to beat the breakfast at Le Meridian Egypt or what was formerly the Sheraton Luxor. I can only imagine what is served at the high-end hotels in Dubai.

Delicious Manakish at the Hilton

Verdict: Not enough information to render a verdict.

Spa

As to the spa, it was a nice indoor pool and hot tub worth visiting to avoid the Puerto Rican heat. Though the Hilton Habtoor did not have a pool, I preferred its spa to this one. Again, hard to imagine that there isn’t a nicer spa in the land of excessive exuberance, aka Dubai.

Best spa in the Middle East is at the IC Phoenicia?

Verdict: Nice spa but best in the Middle East? As Kevin McCallister would say, “I don’t think so.”

I prefer the Hilton Habtoor

Food

As to the food, it was damn good, both in flavor and in presentation. Still, appetizers like hummus are either good or gross. Either the chick pea/tahini consistency is right or it isn’t. Can’t really improve on such a basic recipe.

Verdict: Hummus is hummus. Schwarma should not be expensive (see Searching for the Best Shawarma Beirut). I’ll stick with BB’s recipes.

Parties

As to the parties, I was told to go to Skybar by every.single.person. I’ve written about the tourist trap that is rooftop anything (see Don’t Pay $30 for Tacos), and I was skeptical about going. Like a sheep, I decided to give it a shot and was denied entry. Like a mule, I returned with locals and got in. Guess what? It’s just a nightclub on a roof. The drinks tasted the same, the music was the same, and the hangover felt the same. Remarkably, the only thing different was the energy. It was Jeb Bush low leaving me to question the stereotype that Lebanese party harder than anyone else in the Middle East.

Sky Bar? More like Sky Boring.

Before and after SkyBar, I went to Garden, another highly recommended club. I was told in a few hours, it would get better. I was told that a few hours later. I didn’t receive the memo to snort Xanax before entering. Had I done so perhaps I could’ve understood how anyone could find the elevator chill out music appropriate for partying.

Garden: The worst club in the world?

Other places recommended were Iris for pre-drinking, Hamara Street, and Mar Mikhael. The track record for recommendations isn’t stellar so go at your own risk.

Verdict: Sorry my Arab brethren but Tel Aviv is a better party city (see Radio Nightclub Tel Aviv: Worth Getting Detained).

Women 

As to the women, yes they are beautiful. However, much like Scottsdale, they are initially unapproachable. There must be a joint training session between Scottsdale and Beirut residents whereby both men and women must pretend not to be having any fun, and whoever keeps up the ‘I have to poop but can’t find a toilet scowl’ the longest receives the best grade.

Verdict: There are beautiful people all over the world. Happy people are the most beautiful.

What I Enjoyed

Although this is not a traditional Guns & Butter Travel Guide, in the sense that I focus more on what was overrated, let me point out what I did enjoy:

Hotels

Hilton: Great spa, room and breakfast (see Hilton Beirut Habtoor Grand: Suite? Spa? Breakfast? Yes!).

Hilton Habtoor

IC Le Vendome Hotel and Phoenicia Hotel: Good spa and great drinks at the bar (see IC Phoenicia vs. Le Vendome Beirut: Either Way, Time to Splurge).

Solid drinks at the IC Phoenicia

Pool Party

I tried to go to Riviera but was denied entry because I was alone. Fortunately, Le Vendome provides discounted access to Le Plaige, a legitimate pool party that may not be Vegas but held its own against Miami (see Where to Pool Party in Miami).

Started light but it got crazy.

Beirut Travel Guide: And now, I will tell you what I should have done.

Falafel: How did I forget to order falafel? I was too fixated on the shawarma.

Beirut Travel Guide: And now I will tell you what Lebanese people said I should do.

Small towns: I was told if I really wanted to experience Lebanon, I would have to venture from Beirut to towns like Byblios. Maybe I could’ve done so, but I came to see Beirut. BB didn’t say Uber to the countryside.

Grotto: Another hype location was the grotto. I didn’t bother going because 1) no cameras are allowed 2)#halongbay. You might enjoy it but I’m grotto’d out.

Beirut Travel Guide: And finally, I’ll tell you where to spend 3 good minutes:

Pigeon Rock: Take a picture and move along. Don’t get suckered into taking a tourist boat down there.

Overall

Marrakech is the most overrated city I have visited. Istanbul is second. Surprisingly and sadly, Beirut is third.

This display at BEY airport epitomizes the Beirut experience. Maybe once upon a time Fahrenheit was cool, but now it is old and musty.

After reading the Beirut Travel Guide, see what I did in Shanghai for a month, by reading the ANA, Take Me ‘Round the World Trip Report.

10 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve been in Beirut but was positive about it. i can say that Beirut is as ugly as NYC, but both got the energy. Have you been to Queens in nyc? Bronx ? Ugly ugly ugly
    Paris is pretty period
    Beirut is ugly
    NYC is ugly
    If you use the same lens.
    What you want is what matters… you have to be with people in Beirut to enjoy it. It’s not the best destination for singles.

    • I don’t mind ugly lol. I agree that solo mission Beirut is not ideal. I ended up meeting many people, local and tourists. Still not wowed. Onto the next one.

  2. I agree with most of the comments here. As someone who was born in Beirut and eventually returned for a visit as an adult, I would agree that Beirut is ugly, gritty, stained by war and entrenched with political divides. But the energy and vibe is unlike anywhere else, especially if you’re with people who are local. It’s a city that has demonstrated resiliency and bounced back despite all that ugliness, and still maintains a certain Lebanese charm.
    Yes, there are tourist traps like anywhere else. And it may have once been called the “Paris of the Middle East.” But if I wanted Paris, I would go to Paris. Beirut is Beirut.

    I do hate that it is challenging to get into certain clubs if you’re rolling solo. And granted, I have no basis of comparison between Tel Aviv’s night life vs Beirut’s night life..but the Beirut night life wore me out and surpassed anything I have experienced. Maybe I’m just getting old lol

    I hope you’ll give it another shot, and with a travel buddy. And, perhaps venture outside the city to experience the more charming areas of Lebanon. The falafel and shawarma stands, the farrooj stands, the wineries, the fishing, the natural wonders, and the beach parties are good enough for me.

    Good read man!

  3. You obviously didn’t spend times wandering Rue Armenia and Mar Mikhael, enjoying the art galleries, good restaurants, and cool cocktail bars. I found Beirut had a youthful, exciting energy that only can take place in places that are coming out of such destruction. Another cool area was Badaro. So many cafes and bars with people spilling out onto the street. The food everywhere was heavenly.

    and spot on on your miss in not leaving. Tyre was absolutely spectacular. I actually found Byblos to be very disney-fied but if you go again take the minibus (it’s an experience!) to Tyre for like $3 US and wander around for the day. And I can’t believe you didn’t take the day to goto Baalbek and Aanjar, which are incredible world heritage sites. I spent 5 days in Lebanon and it wasn’t enough!

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